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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Obama and Romney Clash in Final Debate; Interview with Former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman; DuPont Cutting 1,500 Jobs; IPad Going Mini?; Interview with Bill Burton; The Job of Commander-in-Chief; America's Relationship with China

Aired October 23, 2012 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody. STARTING POINT this morning: showdown in Boca. President Obama and Governor Romney challenging each other on foreign policy in their final debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the 1980s are now calling for their foreign policy back.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I'm not going to wear rose- colored glasses when it comes to Russia or Mr. Putin.

OBAMA: Governor Romney, you keep on you're trying to air brush history.

ROMNEY: Attacking me is not an agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

O'BRIEN: Who came out on top? We are holding the candidates to the facts, taking a look at some of the most talked about moments. Look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

OBAMA: Fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed.

ROMNEY: I'm a son of Detroit. I was born in Detroit. My dad was the head of a car company. I like American cars.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

O'BRIEN: We've got complete analysis this morning with just 14 days until Election Day.

It's Tuesday, October 23rd, and STARTING POINT begins right now. We're coming to you live in Boca Raton in Florida.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, President Obama, Governor Romney back on the campaign trail today after their final debate last night. By most accounts, it was a forceful -- more forceful President Obama who came out on top last night. The majority of viewers and political analysts agreed that President Obama with his playing defense for much of the foreign policy face off.

Take a look at our CNN/ORC poll of people who watched the debate, shows 48 percent favoring the President, 40 percent favoring governor Romney. The President also won the second contest by seven points in our CNN polling, after he lost by 42 points in the first debate.

Senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash joins us this morning.

It was a very different President Obama during this last debate and also I thought a different Governor Romney. He was -- President Obama came across, I thought, as aggressive, charging in this debate and Mitt Romney not so much.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was a complete reversal from the way that they started out in the first debate. From the perspective of Mitt Romney, that was not an accident. He understands -- and both of them actually understood that this is a foreign policy debate. It is not what Americans are going to vote on. So, they both wanted to make it a question of leadership.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Mitt Romney came wanting voters to see him as commander-in-chief, commander-in-chief came determined to make sure that didn't happen.

OBAMA: I know you haven't been in position to actually execute foreign policy, but every time you've offered an opinion, you've been wrong.

BASH: Time and time again, the President's harsh criticism tripped with sarcasm.

OBAMA: A few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia. Not al Qaeda, you said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because, you know, the Cold War has been over for 20 years.

ROMNEY: Our Navy is smaller now than anytime since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We are now at 285.

OBAMA: I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916.

Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We had these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.

BASH: Before the debate, Romney advisors told CNN he would not be the scrappy candidate we saw in the last one. Instead, stay solid and steady. Not take the President's bait.

ROMNEY: And attacking me is not an agenda.

BASH: Romney repeatedly blamed the President for failing to lead on global hot spots.

ROMNEY: You look at the record of the last four years and say, is Iran closer to a bomb? Yes. Is the Middle East in tumult? Yes. Is al Qaeda on the run, on its heels? No. Are Israel and the Palestinians closer to reaching a peace agreement? No.

BASH: But for the most part, Romney was calm in demeanor and remarkably agreeable on policy, from Syria to Egypt to Afghanistan.

ROMNEY: Well, we're going to be finished by 2014. And when I'm president, we'll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014.

BASH: In fact, the Republican who Democrats try to paint as a warmonger used the opening minutes to position himself as a peacemaker.

ROMNEY: I congratulate him on taking out Osama bin Laden and going after the leadership in al Qaeda. But we can't kill our way out of this mess.

BASH: Romney successfully got under the President's skin by repeating this allegation.

ROMNEY: And then the President began what I've called an apology tour of going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America. I think they look at that and saw weakness.

OBAMA: Nothing Governor Romney just said is true -- starting with this notion of me apologizing. This has been probably the biggest whopper that's been told during the course of this campaign.

BASH: One of the most fiery exchanges was not about foreign policy, but rather something decidedly American -- the U.S. auto industry.

OBAMA: If we had taken your advice, Governor Romney, about our auto industry, we'd be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China.

ROMNEY: I'm a son of Detroit. I was born in Detroit. My dad was head of a car company. I like American cars. And I would do nothing to hurt the U.S. auto industry.

I said they need these companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy.

Fortunately, the President picked --

OBAMA: Governor Romney, that's not what you said.

ROMNEY: Fortunately, the President -- you can -- you can take a look at the op-ed.

OBAMA: Governor Romney, you did not --

ROMNEY: You can take a look at the op-ed.

OBAMA: You did not say you would provide, Governor, help.

ROMNEY: I said that we would provide guarantees. And that was what was able to allow these companies to go through bankruptcy, to come out of bankruptcy.

OBAMA: Let's check the record.

ROMNEY: That's the height of silliness.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And the auto bailout was hardly the only issue that both candidates wanted to bring back home on the economy. They talked about jobs and even talked about --

O'BRIEN: Education.

BASH: Education, all of their points and all of their plans because they know that is what voters will really focus on, not so much foreign policy.

O'BRIEN: They really did want to talk about domestic policy even though the night was devoted to foreign policy.

Dana, thank you very much.

I want to bring in former Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota. It's nice to have you with us, sir.

NORM COLEMAN (R), FORMER MINNESOTA SENATOR: It's great to be with you.

O'BRIEN: Some of the polls show that it was President Obama winning this debate, if you will. This debate, let's show CNN/ORC poll debate watchers. And the numbers are 48 percent for President Obama, 40 percent for Mitt Romney. You sort of grimace when I said.

COLEMAN: I'm actually smiling, because on points, some of the polls say he won the debate. The polls also said you're more or less likely to vote for Governor Romney or President Obama --

O'BRIEN: Fifty percent said neither.

COLEMAN: On CNN poll, by the way, it was Romney has a one lead --

O'BRIEN: One point --

COLEMAN: On PPP, which was Democratic --

O'BRIEN: Right, but PPP is robo calls.

COLEMAN: It was 47-35. For Obama it was 32 most likely, 46 against.

So, the bottom line is that Governor Romney on initiative counts, which at the end of this debate, who are you going to vote for? Who do you want to be commander-in-chief? Who do want to move this nation forward?

Governor Romney did pretty well last night.

O'BRIEN: So, I'll just clarify for the PPP poll, because we talked about that a little bit earlier. That's a poll that often we do not count and calculate because it's a robo call.

BASH: We don't use it at CNN.

COLEMAN: But the CNN poll you count and on that poll, it was a draw, right?

O'BRIEN: It was a draw, 24 percent I think for Governor Romney and --

(CROSSTALK)

COLEMAN: So, then you say, you look at the President who came out really hot last night. He was hot. My sense is he's seeing his lead dissipates in the polls.

O'BRIEN: Draws the win is what you're saying?

COLEMAN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: OK. So, let's talk a little bit about what I thought was a lot of agreement last night. I mean, a change in tone, we were talking about, Dana and I just a moment ago from Governor Romney that we've seen sort of from the first debate. Let's play a chunk of all the agreeing that went on last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I felt the same as the President did. I want to underscore the same point the President made. The President was right to up the usage of that technology.

OBAMA: There have been times, Governor, frankly, during the course of this campaign where it sounded like you thought that you'd do the same things we did, but you'd say them louder.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Is that a problem? I mean, we were talking this morning with Ambassador Nick Burns and he said, yes, we've seen a shift from Governor Romney's positions from the beginning of his campaigning to today, a shift in numerous areas. COLEMAN: First of all, where they didn't agree is the most fundamentally important for the American public that's on the economy. Governor Romney made the point that you can't have strong foreign policy, you can't have strong national defense without a strong economy. President -- and he lays out his five-point plan. President Obama plays rope-a-dope, take the body punches and get past November 6th without laying out a plan.

On those issues like use of drones, taking out bin Laden, what's to disagree about?

O'BRIEN: It's not just disagreeing. It's shifting, right?

COLEMAN: I don't think there's been shifting.

BASH: What about Afghanistan?

COLEMAN: The governor has always said he will abide by the 2014 date. What he didn't change last night at all was the fact that they didn't discuss it, but the bottom line is how he got to that point wasn't something he agreed with. President Obama said arbitrarily didn't work with commanders on the ground but set the date.

And Governor Romney is a realist. They set the date. He's going to -- he'll make it work.

BASH: You conservatives are chomping at the bit for Mitt Romney to do a better job of taking advantage politically of failures in the wake of what happened in Libya. Why didn't they talk (ph) last night?

COLEMAN: You know, I think what he did last night is rather than going he said/she said, getting in to the tit-for-tat on that, that he really did take a global approach. Here's -- and, by the way, laid out a vision, which he's done on the economy, which he's done on foreign policy. Here is how we make America stronger.

He talks about the problems in the Mideast and he talked about Syria and 30,000 have been slaughtered and America taking -- the President said we've taken the lead. No, he hasn't taken the lead. He has sat back. He has sat back. He outsourced it.

O'BRIEN: What did he (INAUDIBLE) on Syria?

COLEMAN: First of all, he wouldn't be where we're at right now. He wouldn't have outsourced his Syrian policy --

O'BRIEN: What will he do differently? He comes in. The first day as president, what will he do on Syria?

COLEMAN: What he would is he'd call together what I call the coalition of the relevant. I still --

O'BRIEN: There has been a coalition.

COLEMAN: But he'd call together, take the lead, he'd say he identify those forces of moderation, which by the way have felt abandoned. "New York Times" article said that about a week ago. He would provide arms to those, moderate forces so they could defend themselves or maintain whatever they maintain.

America has not taken the lead. We have sat back. As a result you've seen 30,000 slaughtered and Assad still being in power.

O'BRIEN: Can I ask you a question? I want to go back to Afghanistan.

COLEMAN: I'm sure you will ask me a question.

O'BRIEN: I know. Not Afghanistan is what I meant.

So, he said this last night, "When I'm president, he'll make sure to bring our troops out by the end of 2014. The commanders and generals there on track to do so. We've seen progress, et cetera, et cetera.

In the past, in June of 2011, "Announcing a withdrawal date, that was wrong. Taliban may not have watches but they do have calendars." Isn't that a contradiction?

COLEMAN: You just reaffirmed what I said a few minutes ago. Announcing a date was wrong.

O'BRIEN: But he said he would pull this out at 2014.

(CROSSTALK)

COLEMAN: We have -- no, we've announced a date. He didn't announce that date. President Obama did. He did and the Taliban probably jumped for joy.

So, what Governor Romney said, we have announced the date. We're going to work with that date. We will make it happen. We're not going to fight about that.

But he didn't announce the date. Barack Obama did and that was wrong. But once you've done that, you've got to live with it.

BASH: You don't have to.

COLEMAN: Well, I think you do have to, actually. At this point, you know, we're kind of in a process. We'll be moving our equipments. We're moving out troops. You don't simply go in and say I'm going to change it on day one.

So, he said the date was announced. It wasn't done the way he would have done it.

O'BRIEN: He didn't quite say all that.

COLEMAN: He would have done it, and as a result, he will live with it.

O'BRIEN: OK. Let's talk for a moment about Syria, if I can. I want to play a chunk about what Governor Romney said about Syria being Iran's only ally in the Arab world. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea. It's their route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally, Israel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Iran has almost 1,500 miles of coastline. He said Syria is the route to the sea, Syria only has something like 119 miles of coastline.

COLEMAN: Where's he's right on point, and I'm not going to argue geography, but where he is right on point is that Syria is Iran's kind of -- it's link to Hezbollah. It's the flow of arms into Iraq, into unsettling Israel. So, Syria plays a major piece in kind of holding up the Iranian regime in supporting their support of terrorism.

So, he's absolutely right on that. The reality is we'll get back to Syria and we'd also talk about Iran. This president hasn't led on dealing with Syria. This president hasn't been effective on slowing Iran's march to nuclear weapon.

O'BRIEN: Senator Norm Coleman, nice to have you with us. We appreciate your coming this morning.

COLEMAN: Thank you. Thanks, Soledad. Thanks so much.

O'BRIEN: Straight ahead, this morning, we're going to get a reaction from Bill Burton, with Priorities USA Action. That's a Democratic PAC. It's going to be straight ahead.

And if you missed last night's debate, you can watch it again today at noon Eastern. We're going to air it right here on CNN.

Let's get right back to John Berman. He's got a look at some of the other stories that are making news this morning.

Hey, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Thanks, Soledad.

The meningitis outbreak getting worse. Federal officials now report 23 people have died in 16 states and the total number of cases has risen to 297. The outbreak has been linked to steroid pain injections made by the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts. "Reuters" reports that health officials inspected that company years ago due to complaints about those injections.

The FDA investigating whether Monster energy drinks may have contributed to the death of five people since 2009. This comes after the company was hit with a lawsuit in connection with a Maryland teenager's death. Monster is the top selling energy drink in the U.S. that comes at 24 ounce cans that contain 240 milligrams of caffeine, which is about seven times the caffeine in a 12-ounce coke. The estranged wife who was the target of the shooting rampage at that Milwaukee area hospital, area spa is being called a hero. One of Zina Haughton's clients told the "Chicago Tribune," she approached her husband, and tried to shield a receptionist as she tried to attempted to defuse the situation.

Police say Radcliffe Haughton shot seven women, killing three of them, including his wife Zina, he then killed himself.

A San Francisco treat. The Giants are going to the World Series. The decisive seventh game of the NLCS against the Cardinals, won a smack down, beat down, a 9-0 shutout. Next up fro the Giants, the American League champ, Detroit Tigers.

The World Series begins tomorrow night in San Francisco -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Whoo hoo, all right! John, thanks.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT: It's derby country. It's also one of the most crucial battleground communities in the election. Scott County, Iowa, has enough votes to turn the state blue, or turn the state red. Up next, we're going to meet some of the voters who could decide the election.

And Apple lovers get ready, the new details on what's expected to be a mini iPad announcement today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. As we've been reporting throughout this campaign season, voters in key mid western states are going to ultimately decide the outcome of the presidential election. CNNs Miguel Marquez has been traveling all across that region, taking the pulse of the voters there. This morning, we catch up with him in Davenport, Iowa, which is located in Scott County, which is the heart of roller derby country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If it's davenport, it's got to be roller derby (INAUDIBLE). Scott County is just one of several battlegrounds here in America's heartland. In this one county alone, there are enough votes to turn this state blue or red.

(voice-over) The rollers demonstrated their signature move.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Blocking in front of you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my God!

MARQUEZ: Oh, and by the way --

You're booty did block me.

MARQUEZ: They're really tough. These rough and tumbled Midwestern women also voters. (on-camera) So, it's all about keeping the other side from moving forward.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

MARQUEZ: This is like politics, you realize.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're behind you, guys.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Waitress, Connie Hart, has worked at the machine shed restaurant for 26 years. Her derby name, Diamond Dust. Her specialty, blocking. Her biggest issue, the economy.

How tough has it been?

CONNIE HART, "DIAMOND DUST": It's been tight. It's been real tight.

MARQUEZ: Because less money, higher gas?

HART: Less money. A lot of people don't want to go out to eat as much as they used to.

MARQUEZ: By day, Carrie De Crane is a social worker helping kids with special needs. On some nights, she's Lady Gotcha, a jammer. That's the one that scores the points.

What is important in this election?

CARRIE DE CRANE, "LADY GOTCHA": I want to make sure there's going to be budgeting for the people who actually need it, jobs as well. I want there to be continued job growth.

MARQUEZ: De Crane says she'll likely vote for third party.

(on-camera) Republicans say this is like 2004 with just a few counties broke their way giving Bush a very narrow victory here. Democrats argue their advantage, the low unemployment rate now just 5.2 percent, among the lowest in the country. This is a single machine?

PAT POLLACK, GENESIS SYSTEMS GROUP: This is a single machine, and it's only part of the machine.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Scott County in Iowa rebounded with help from companies like Genesis Systems Group, a manufacturer of industrial robots. Increasingly, its business is overseas.

Are you hiring?

POLLACK: We have done some hiring this year. I think we're up about ten people. Overall. But we're still about 10 percent lower than we were in 2007.

MARQUEZ: Scott County, an economic bright spot in the heartland whose voters can be tough to win over. Oh, my goodness!

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ (on-camera): Oh, dear. I don't know if I'll ever survive this. Politics are bruising as I've discovered here in Davenport and Scott County. Both campaigns, both candidates will be here tomorrow. Obama will be here in Davenport tomorrow during the day and then Mr. Romney will be in Cedar Rapids a few hours after that. This state, this county, this place highly contested. A few thousand votes could make a huge difference here -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. Miguel Marquez watching it for us and still standing after that roller derby match. Nice to see you. Thanks, Miguel.

Later, we're going to go back to Miguel. He'll be in Jefferson County in Colorado. That, of course, another key area that could decide this election.

Still ahead this morning, last night's debate, President Obama claimed that Mitt Romney said the U.S. should still have troops in Iraq? How on point is he about that? We'll fact check that claim coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans, "Minding Your Business." U.S. stock futures are down this morning, down pretty sharply after markets closed flat yesterday. Dow futures are down more than 100 points. S&P 500 futures are well below fair value.

Three Dow components issued disappointing earnings forecast. DuPont is one of them. It's cutting about 1,500 jobs over the next 12 or 18 months. The chemical company says it's been seeing sales falling worldwide. It's going to cut about two percent of its workforce.

Apple, meanwhile, is making a product announcement today and rumors in the tech world say it will be the iPad mini. The iPad screen expected to shrink from 10 inches to 7.8 inches. The cost, somewhere between about $250 and $350. We're going to find out for sure in a few hours, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: I'm so excited about that. That would be great.

ROMANS: I'm not excited about the --

O'BRIEN: Oh, well, let's not talk about that. Let's go back and talk about the mini. All right. Christine, thank you very much.

Back to the candidates last night. The two of them threw out a lot of numbers and various claims in the debate. John Berman has been doing some fact checking for us this morning, keeping everybody honest on this. John, what did you find out?

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. There was a tense exchange over the issue of Iraq, specifically, troops in Iraq. President Obama claimed that Mitt Romney recently said the U.S. should still have troops in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: You say that you're not interested in duplicating what happened in Iraq, but just a few weeks ago, you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, what are the facts here? In December of 2011, Romney said this, "We should have left 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 personnel there to help transition to the Iraqis own military capabilities." Then, just a couple of weeks ago, Romney said, "America's ability to influence events for the better in Iraq has been determined -- undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence."

So, (INAUDIBLE) is true with important context. Yes, Romney suggested that he would have kept some troops in Iraq, but, listen to this important context. On Iraq, Mitt Romney claimed that President Obama was looking to keep troops there as well, which the President denied.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: You and I agreed, I believe, that there should have been a status of forces agreement.

OBAMA: That's not true.

ROMNEY: You didn't want a status of forces agreement?

OBAMA: No. What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us there. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, what are the facts here? Well, Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense, was negotiating to keep 3,000 to 5,000 troops in Iraq within a so-called status of force agreement. This fell apart over the issue of whether U.S. troops would have certain immunities from prosecution.

(INAUDIBLE) here is what Mitt Romney says here is mostly true. President Obama did seem willing to leave some U.S. troops in Iraq under certain conditions. The deal just fell apart -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. John, thank you for that fact check. Appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we heard the Republican take on the presidential debate. We'll get the Democratic side this morning. Next, Bill Burton from Priorities U.S.A. Action, it's one of the largest Super PACs that supports President Obama, he'll be joining us to talk about that.

Also, take a listen to this. It's not a person playing a kazoo. That actually is an animal making that sound. We'll explain. We've got details straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our lead story this morning, President Obama, Mitt Romney now in the homestretch of their campaigns. They're coming off their final face- to-face match-up, which was about foreign policy last night. Here is a little bit of how it went.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Both at home and abroad he has proposed wrong and reckless policies. He's praised George Bush as a good economic Stewart and Dick Cheney as somebody who shows great wisdom and judgment.

ROMNEY: I have a policy for the future and an agenda for the future. When it comes to our economy here the home I know what it takes to create 12 million new jobs and rising take-home pay. And what we've seen over the last four years is something I don't want to see over the next four year years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Joining us this morning, the former deputy press secretary for the Obama White House and now senior strategist with the Priorities USA action super PAC, Bill Burton, nice to have you with us.

BILL BURTON, SENIOR STRATEGIST, PRIORITIES USA ACTION: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Tell me how you think the debate went last night.

BURTON: I think it was great. The President showed command and leadership. Debate about foreign policy is about strength. I don't think anybody walked away from that debate thinking that Mitt Romney came out looking stronger.

O'BRIEN: I think there are some people on the GOP side that completely disagree. When you look at the polls, they believe that President Obama was aggressive, came out on the attack right away really on the first question. Was that a mistake, do you think?

BURTON: No. When you look at all the polls that came out right after the debate they consistently said that the President won the debate. I think when you're talking about national security issues, the American people are looking for the stronger leader, who is going to be the person who has a plan and can forcefully back up that plan with a real command of facts, and the President did that in a very effective way.

O'BRIEN: They may say who won, but when it comes to the more important question, who you're going to vote for, that was split between President Obama and Governor Romney. And then the bigger number is people who were not convinced last night.

BURTON: The country is very split right now. I don't think anybody was going to walk away with a huge advantage on the number of who are you going to vote for. But I think the President did have an edge, and I think he came into the night in a pretty strong position in the polls.

And when he was on stage, I think he showed real leadership on national security. But also I think the surprise was that on some domestic issues like the deficit and education, the President was able to score some real points, too.

ROMANS: The Republicans are claiming that they are very happy this morning because what their ultimate goal was, was for Mitt Romney to be acceptable as somebody as commander in chief. If you look at our insta-poll, it shows that people perceive him and the President very similarly when it comes to being commander in chief. That's not bad.

O'BRIEN: And part of his strategy in being more concilatory and not the attack --

ROMANS: Very reasonable.

BURTON: I saw those Romney folks last night after the debate, and they actually didn't look that happy to me. I think acceptable is not what you're looking for when you're pick in picking who the commander in chief is going to be.

I think Romney came out there and he played like he had a lead he was defending and the President played like he was two points behind. And that tenaciousness is something to help show that the President was really fighting for his job but also on national security issues.

ROMANS: He wasn't just tenacious, but snarky and sarcastic at times. The first debate he held back because he was worried about not looking presidential, and then he did a complete 180.

BURTON: I think he was tough. Some of the things he said were probably unpleasant for Mitt Romney to listen to because it was very tough on him individually. But I think he got his points across in a way that stuck, that people will remember. When you took down what Mitt Romney had to say about the boats in the Navy, the ships in the Navy, that's something people will remember, and it makes Mitt Romney look foolish that, you know, he thinks you measure the strength of your Navy by lining up all the ships in the harbor and counting them.

O'BRIEN: So, you know, one of the things I notice from our dial testing last night, any time either candidate got negative immediately, you could see, especially women, dial way down. When they would do tests on ads, they hate the ads. Especially in Florida really, really hate the ads. You're the guy in charge of the ads. Are you worried about the impact of those ads that at some point actually works against you?

BURTON: You know, I was watching --

O'BRIEN: There was a visceral reaction.

BURTON: I was watching the ads in my hotel room. It is really astounding if you live in a swing state how many ads are inundated with.

ROMANS: You raised money for those ads.

BURTON: That's to battle the Republican money that's out there. We've shown focus groups and talked to voters about what they're paying attention to and what they see in the ads and what they remember. This ad we have up now called stage, it's one of the most memorable ads that people have seen. It's not over the top negative. It's just one guy telling a story when Mitt Romney came to Bane and him and his friends got fired.

O'BRIEN: President Obama said this about the TV commercials. Let's play a little bit of what the President said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Thank you very much, Bob, Governor Romney, and to Lynn University. You now have heard three debates, months of campaigning and way too many TV commercials. And now you've got a choice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: And our focus group people laughed, and they're laughing because they know it to be true. What is the strategy from here out? Flood the airwaves, more ads? Is it a different tone to appeal to women? Hit the ground, go door-to-door? What's the strategy?

BURTON: As you get to these final days, the ads you see are closing argument ads. The one from the President and his campaign today is a closing argument. He would like to have your vote. And for us, it's just making sure that people remember that. Mitt Romney says it's his business experience that would make him a better President of the United States than President Obama. But it's a reminder of, well, let's look at this experience and see what it meant for middle class families across this country already.

O'BRIEN: Two weeks to go. Are you anxious?

BURTON: I think it's a very close election, but I would rather be in our shoes than theirs because I think the President has a little advantage in all the swing states, and I think he's going to win.

O'BRIEN: Is that an "I'm anxious but less anxious than they are"?

BURTON: I think that's right.

O'BRIEN: Nice to have you with us this morning, appreciate it.

BURTON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We've got to get to John Berman. He has an update on some of the other stories that are making news this morning. Hey, John.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. One of the students involved in the hazing death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion won't be serving jail time. Brian Jones was sentenced yesterday to two years of probation and 200 hours of community service. Jones is the first of dozen of defendants charged with Champion's death on a bus outside an Orlando hotel after a football game.

Tears in court as the harassment and child endangerment trial of Douglas Kennedy begins. A maternity ward nurse broke down testify in testifying Kennedy, the son of late senator Robert F. Kennedy, twisted her arm and kicked another nurse as he tried to take his newborn son outside. The assistant D.A. said the nurses were simply following protocol during the January incident. The defense called the nurse abrasive and confrontational.

Tropical storm Sandy is becoming a hurricane by tomorrow. Right now the system is packing 45-mile-an-hour winds and sits less than 400 miles west-southwest of Jamaica, rain across Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic and eastern Cuba. Forecasters say it could threaten the east coast sometime next week.

This is a disturbing story in northern California. Officials at Piedmont High School outside San Francisco has informed parents they've uncovered something called a fantasy league for sex among the students. They said female students were drafted into having sex with male students who then earned points. The principal said this apparently has been going on for five or six years. One mother says she is pleased this has come to light.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm really glad there's a strong administration who is willing to take on these kinds of issues. As a mother of four girls, I couldn't be happier.

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BERMAN: This activity was discovered during a recent school assembly about date rape.

To a happier story now, they are known as the canaries of the sea for third high-pitched chirps. Now researchers say a white beluga whale displayed the ability to actually mimic human speech.

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(INAUDIBLE)

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BERMAN: That sounds lots like a lot of people I know. Unfortunately, the whale died five years ago. Only now are its remarkable vocal feats being studied. That was kind of awesome. It sounds like a cartoon you watch on TV. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: That is so awesome. It's crazy. He's cute, too.

BERMAN: And he has the looks to go along with it.

O'BRIEN: John, thank you.

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, is China an ally or is China trouble for the United States? Candidates were talking tough about the emerging super power. Who's right? Who's wrong? Christine Romans will join us to break it all down. That's up next.

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O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're fact checking the final presidential debate this morning. Christine Romans has been looking at some of the President's claims about U.S. trade with China. Christine?

ROMANS: Good morning, Soledad. We can't talk about American jobs without talking about China, and both candidates talking tough about the world's second largest economy in that debate. And the President claimed his policies are working.

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OBAMA: Now, with respect to what we've done with China already, U.S. exports have doubled since I came into office to China and, actually, currencies are at their most advantageous point for U.S. exporters since 1983.

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ROMANS: Let's start with exports he's right but only if you look at two isolated months. If you just compare the month that the President took office when we exported $4.2 billion worth of goods to China to August of this year, the last that we have on record, the exports have doubled but if you look at the trend, exports are not there yet. Exports have not double 2008 export to China were about $69.7 billion.

Last year they reached $103.9 billion and this year we're not on track to double at this point. You can see they haven't doubled yet. Also as exports have risen, Soledad, so have imports. So the trade deficit is worse since 2009. We're exporting more but we're importing more, too.

So much of both candidate's criticism focused on China's currency, which it keeps artificially low to make its products cheaper than American goods. There has been some recent progress on the currency. The President is right there. China has let its currency appreciate a little bit but still is held within a ban set within the government. And Soledad there are other things the Chinese government does routinely to give its industries an edge over U.S. goods.

So a lot still to be written on this story and I will point out, too, Soledad, that campaigning presidents tend to be an awful a lot tougher on China than governing presidents. That has been something we've seen hold through -- true for five or six administrations. O'BRIEN: Yes and I thought a lot of the questions this morning, certainly the conversations we had with the ambassador burns for one and Negroponte yesterday was less about is China a currency manipulator and more about should you out loud say that China is a currency manipulator if you're hoping to be able to have any nuance and any kind of a negotiation with them.

ROMANS: Right.

O'BRIEN: Is what I thought they were saying. Christine, thank you for that. I appreciate it.

Well from sanctions on Iran to the auto bailout, the economy, they're the big points of contention during last night's debate. Could Mitt Romney's private sector experience be more useful abroad than President Obama's military accomplishments? We'll take a look at that, coming up next.

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BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. Checking some "Top Stories" for you this morning.

People at Willamette Pass, Oregon are using snow shovels this morning. An autumn storm brought about four inches of snow to the area ski. Resorts did get some of it, but they're not open yet for the ski season. That's how early it is.

Homeowners in Everett, Washington are threatening to sue the city because their houses are literally crumbling. Three homes have already collapsed and ten more are threatened. Residents say city workers incorrectly expanded a drainage system, causing this landslide you're seeing here. City officials deny that, calling it a natural event.

We have some more poll numbers coming in. OK, these are very unscientific poll numbers based on Halloween mask sales. There is a clear front-runner for president, President Obama. Spirit Halloween, the largest seasonal Halloween retailer in America says Obama masks have out-sold the Romney version 60 percent to 40 percent and the chain says they have accurately predicted the election winner since they started keeping track way back in 1996. So you have that, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes like the PPP poll. We don't follow that one either. All right, John, thank you very much.

We're wrapping up here in Florida. Our special coverage of the final debate which saw candidates making their case for how they would represent the United States to the world over the next four years the CNN/ORC polls those watched showed Mitt Romney nearly even with President Obama on the question of whether he could handle the job of Commander-in-Chief.

The close margin could be a sign that despite the President's military accomplishments abroad, Governor Romney's experience in the private sector could factor into the nation's economic influence around the world.

We want to get to this morning the editor-in-chief of "The Economist", John Micklethwait, is with us this morning. It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you very much for talking with us. Give me a sense of who do you -- who you thought was stronger in the debate last night. Was it President Obama or was it Governor Romney?

JOHN MICKLETHWAIT, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "THE ECONOMIST": I think President Obama was the stronger. And he made more of the points. I think on the other hand, as you just said, I think Romney passed a certain threshold test. He looked reasonably comfortable on most of it. Some bits he fluffed. It wasn't, perhaps, his best performance.

Obama came out I think contrite to -- he didn't create such a large gap that Romney looked completely out of it.

O'BRIEN: Many times we heard Governor Romney agreeing with President Obama. Do you think that made him look weaker or some -- some had suggested stronger and maybe more -- more reasonable, which could appeal to female voters?

MICKLETHWAIT: Well it's interesting with Romney, isn't it? Because he has two bits. One, he has this sort of business I'm going to do a deal way, where he goes out and he tries to make deals as quickly as possible and tries to position himself in the right place. And I think that's what he was doing last night. He knew he had -- had to play a somewhat softer, somewhat easier to deal with.

By contrast actually a lot of these foreign policies, if you look at some of the statements he has made in the past to do with Iran, to do with China, even to do with Palestine. And these are all places where he's actually taken quite strong ideological positions and he was trying to roll back from them.

BASH: John this is Dana Bash with Soledad here, I'm curious about if you think that that's what he's doing on the issue of calling China a currency manipulator on day one of his administration.

Do you really think in your experience that that is something a President of the United States will do even or especially because Romney doesn't have the backing of the Republican leaders in Congress to do that?

MICKLETHWAIT: I think it's a very dangerous thing for the following reasons. I think it takes a calculation, it takes a gamble that the Chinese are the same as they ever were. And the Chinese are used to China bashing on the American presidential trail. They are used to people who run for president, George Bush did it, Bill Clinton did it, Obama did it a bit before they come in taking on bashing China.

The difference now is that China feels different. They've just had their own president who is just about to come in, Xi Jinping. I don't think China is in the mood to take ultimatums from America. And that is where the danger of what Romney is doing. I don't think either Mitt Romney, if he becomes President, or Xi Jinping, the new Chinese leader -- they are both quite pragmatic people. Neither wants to have a trade war but you can imagine populism getting behind both men.

So I think there's a strong element of danger there. It's a very risky thing for Romney to be doing.

O'BRIEN: Here is what Governor Romney said about a potential trade war. Let's play that.

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ROMNEY: They sell us about this much stuff every year. And we sell them about this much stuff every year. It's pretty clear who doesn't want a trade war. There's one going on right now which we don't know about. It's a silent one and they're winning. We have enormous trade imbalance with China and it's worse this year than last year and it's worse last year than the year before.

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O'BRIEN: I think when I was doing the focus groups which was taking place in Orland, Florida, the people really loved hearing about sort of the sense of unfairness and that someone would do something about it. It's clearly something that resonates with voters.

At the same time, Dana and I were just talking about Ahmadinejad, saying that the U.S. is weaker because really of all of this debt, which, of course, brings in China again. Where does this lead -- what kind of nuance can you have in this kind of conversation if you can't immediately declare China a currency manipulator?

MICKLETHWAIT: China want to do a deal on this stuff. The people who run China fundamentally want to focus on their domestic economy the same way as either a President Romney or a President Obama next time around would want to do exactly the same thing.

The difficulty is that China now is a different country. It's been told it's part of the G-2 would. It's been told it's now a big superpower, like America. They have a vast amount of Internet action. And this is actually one of the places where the government is actually more reserved than a lot of the stuff you see online.

I think that is a dangerous area. What Romney or Obama for that matter, they're both playing this game. Obama has also taken some anti-China actions recently. And as you said, I heard you talk earlier about the focus group where you were. It goes down very well because I think in America people can feel the dragon's breath on your shoulder in a way that hasn't happened for 100 years. Suddenly there is a rival to America and that is making people nervous.

O'BRIEN: John Micklethwait is the editor in chief of "The Economist", joining us this morning. Nice to have you with us sir. We appreciate your time.

MICKLETHWAIT: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: STARTING POINT is bank in just a moment. Stay with us.

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O'BRIEN: That's it for us this morning. Thanks for joining us live here in Boca Raton, Florida.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.

I'll see you back in New York tomorrow morning. Hey Carol, good morning.